John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: November, 2020

Phil Brown’s War Experience


My Texas friend, Phil Brown, was a “plank owner” of LSM 317 being part of the original crew who took delivery of this landing craft from the Pullman Co. shipyard in Illinois. He served on this ship until it returned to Long Beach for decommissioning after hostilities ended.

Phil and I became friends when he was the Manager of Marsh & McLennan’s Dallas office and I worked with them on an unsuccessful attempt to produce a  new marine client. Phil enjoyed commenting on my blog and this is what led me to prompt Phil to write about his World War II experiences that I originally published in 2016. His story begins when the original crew of LSM 317 took delivery of this landing ship at the Pullman – Standard shipyard on Lake Calumet, Chicago. Phil died on November 1, 2020 and this is his story. Phil Brown: RIP.

Crash Divers

Phil Brown

Our crew stood at attention on 28 July 1944 as LSM 317 was commissioned. The ensign was raised, and the first watches were set. We cast off into the Calumet River and sailed along the Chicago, Des Plaines and Illinois River making our way to the Mississippi River. We only navigated the Mississippi during day light making stops at Memphis, Greenville, Vicksburg and Baton Rouge.

One of our pilots was an old-timer who quit commercial piloting to serve his country. He was really pissed off at his fellow pilots who continued to work on commercial traffic earning big bucks. He frequently flipped them the bird as we passed their tows. Using professional river pilots was a good thing as none of our five officers had ever been to sea and the Skipper, Lt. Warren Ayers had previously been a professional musician.

The guns were installed when we reached New Orleans and, from there we sailed to Galveston where we underwent two or three weeks of intensive training and shakedown.  From Galveston we sailed across the Gulf of Mexico to the Panama Canal where we made a short stop for minor repairs and equipment replacement before transiting to the Pacific side.

Next stop, Bora Bora, which appeared after a 19-day cruise. I thought of paradise; it looked just like what I always though a South Seas island should look like and the locals were friendly, trading shell jewelry for canned goods and other ordinary items. From there we headed to New Caledonia, the Admiralty Islands and stops in New Guinea before reaching our ultimate destination…the Philippines.

Kamikaze was not a word that we knew when we witnessed our first such attack on December 10, 1944. It found us loading supplies to be taken around Leyte to Ormoc on the opposite side of Leyte Gulf. MacArthur planned to circle behind the Japanese who were stubbornly defending the mountains keeping us from punching through to the other side. The Japanese were also using the Ormoc beaches to reinforce and resupply their troops.

We had finished taking on supplies from the Liberty Ship, William S. Ladd, anchored well offshore…As I recall, mostly miscellaneous gear including some artillery shells. We had moved back to the Red Beach area where we grounded 317 to take on an infantry unit that had been pulled out of the lines to be reinserted for the back door attack…About that time General Quarters (GQ) sounded: a squawking klaxon horn followed by the command: “THIS IS NO DRILL; ALL HANDS MAN YOUR BATTLE STATIONS.”

Our rather primitive radar showed three bogeys approaching. Some of the larger ships opened up with what we thought were 5-inch guns… but the planes were too high for our 40mm and 20mm guns. Two or three planes were all we saw. They made their way toward the main concentration of ships where one started down in a steep dive right into and through the number two hatch of the William S. Ladd, where we had taken on supplies! The Ladd exploded and sank in a few minutes; we were thunderstruck; had never seen anything like that and didn’t want to ever see anything like it again!! We’d been so close minutes before!

My GQ station was on top of the conning tower as the Captain’s talker. Several of us discussed what we had just seen and thought it would not happen again…WRONG!!!

On the runs to attack and later resupply Ormoc Beachhead I think we encountered suicide planes every time. We came to refer to the attacks as “crash divers” or “suicide” attacks. Do not remember hearing the term Kamikaze until the invasion of Okinawa.

They were scary and intimidating. On December 11, we were part of a convoy of eight LSMs and four LCIs escorted by six destroyers, supported by four F4U Corsairs. We were ordered to GQ and within minutes several low-flying planes came in front to back attacking our little convoy. They were so low we were unable to lower our field of fire for fear of hitting our own ships. One plane flew so low right over us we could easily see the pilot before he crashed into the destroyer, USS Reid, right behind us striking the torpedo tubes. The Reid blew in half and sank within two minutes. I never forgot what that looked like. Several of us began to pull back to pick up survivors but were ordered to continue our run. Only one LSM was designated to stay to attempt rescues and less than half of Reid’s crew was saved.

We were scared!!! At least I was scared!!! About that time the Corsairs covering our convoy chased off the remaining Japanese aircraft. We reached Ormoc that night but waited until about 3 or 4 am to beach. Out behind us, our escorts were in a serious fire fight with some Japanese destroyers attempting a last-ditch resupply of troops and supplies. Everyone was shooting everywhere, and I am sure some damage was caused by our own fire…I hate the term, “friendly fire” as it did not seem friendly. Our own radar and early daylight told us we were landing on the same beach only ¾ mile from the enemy. It was difficult getting off the beach and on our way home across Leyte Gulf, more air attacks but no crash dives.

Going on the beach to land supplies and troops was not much fun but the crash divers added a scary element as we felt there was no way to stop them. Granted we were small and insignificant; targets of last resort but on one trip a LSM was hit, the aircraft engine went right through the ship.

LSM 317 had damage that prevented us from being sent to Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Those were much worse. Okinawa was the real climax of the Kamikaze.

As an ironic twist, after the Japanese surrendered, we were ordered to Korea to take the surrender of several of their installations. One turned out to be a rather large Kamikaze base. As I remember the island was off the tip of Korea and named Sasha To. The remaining troops had been ordered to stack their arms, rifles in one stack, side arms in another, machine guns in a third, etc. Troops lined up and their officers delivered the bowing and surrendering.

The best thing about this spot was that we liberated a Japanese motorcycle with a sidecar. One of our mechanics fixed it and we had a great time with it along with a jeep we had liberated before the war ended. When the tires finally blew out on the motorcycle, we used a fire hose to wrap around the wheels and wired it on. We took it down onto the land whenever we beached the LSM, opened the bow doors, lowered the ramp and zoomed off; great fun!!!

I had accumulated enough points for discharge once the ship arrived in Long Beach. I knew LSM 317’s sailing days were over. She was completely worn out and would be sold for scrap. I decided to keep the commissioning ensign and our “lucky” flag, the one we ran up during hot landings. So tattered, it was not much more than a star square, but I packed both in mothballs and years later, I mounted and framed the ensign and the flag  in two cases that are still proudly displayed.

Looking back at so much confusion when I left 317, I still regret not taking a pair of good binoculars and the ship’s navigation clock.     

Foley’s NY: Part 5

Paradise Lost

Over the years our visits to Foley’s followed a certain rhythm that began with our rendezvous in dreary Penn Station. My Long Island Railroad (LIRR) train arrived on the half-hour meaning I would arrive first just before 11:30 am. On a good day, Mike’s Jersey Transit train arrived 10 to 15 minutes later. On a bad day, its actual arrival was anybody’s guess. Fortunately, the good days outnumbered the bad. We’d meet at one of the columns just outside the LIRR waiting room that we called “the pole.” From there, we’d stroll the three blocks to 18 West 33rd Street.

The bartender, hostess and waiters would warmly greet us and lead or follow us to our table located in the right-hand corner of the dining room. Without our having to ask, the bartender would hold up two imperial pint glasses* as we’d pass by. We would nod slightly signaling her to draw two Guinness’s from the tap.

*An imperial pint is 568 ml while a US pint is 475 ml.

Our golden period was our time with Alish, Deidra and Kathy. It continued when Shaun hired two younger waitresses, Kira and Steffi. These two youngsters exuded Irish wit and charm making sure Mike and I always enjoyed good craic when they were working the floor.

But such is life that relationships end. Deidra was the first to leave. Then we lost Kathy and eventually, both Kira and  Steffi at the same time.

Still, good times continued as staff came and left. Foley’s  remained our luncheon home where life was good and never disappointed. In time, Steffi returned as Shaun’s assistant manager.

Mike Scott’s went through two extended rough periods health-wise. He suffered a serious fall in 2016 that put him on the injured reserve list for several months. I arranged for Shaun, Papa John and me to visit Mike once he was recuperating.

His second crisis began at the end of 2018, a crisis that was exacerbated by a mistaken diagnosis. This mistake gave free rein for the actual problem, a failing heart valve, that continued to wreck his health during 2019. This led to several hospital and nursing home / rehab stays all to no avail. Finally, the real culprit was found! Long story: short, after receiving the far less invasive TAVR valve replacement procedure at NYU in Manhattan  he recovered  in relatively short order. Thank God!

Still, he remained fragile. I had kept Shaun abreast of all of Mike’s progress and setbacks and he volunteered to visit Mike with me. We drove down together to Red Bank, NJ on December 18, 2019 and had a lively lunch at a pizza trattoria on the beach.

During our return ride, Shaun voluntarily alerted me that Foley’s 33rd Street location would eventually be gone. “The owners’ agent informed me they aren’t going to renew the lease.” (I believe it had two or three more years to run.)

Shaun spelled out several alternative scenarios, “I might look for a new location around Tampa, Florida. Vegas is an option, or I might just rent out my collections to other sports bars. I know an attorney who specializes in those kind of leases and he thinks I have enough to outfit four or five bars.”

I asked questions, but decided not to ask, “Why not another Manhattan location?” Shaun was a proud saloon keeper and, if he didn’t raise that as a realistic alternative, neither would I.

Mike gained sufficient strength and confidence to meet me at the pole for what turned out to be our last lunch at Foley’s on March 5, 2020.

Our place was quiet that day. Shaun had shipped Papa John back to Cavan in February after John had been whipsawed by the flu with a case so bad that he had to be briefly hospitalized.

Shaun was in Florida and Tom Cahill couldn’t make it that day. We knew Covid 19 was spreading but I don’t recall a sense of imposing doom. Steffi greeted Mike as her long-lost friend. We had out typical Foley’s lunch, gossiping about our former Marsh adventures and colleagues, living and dead, the state of the world, this and that and so it goes.    .

Nine days later, the governors of Connecticut, New Jersey and New York announced a quarantine. A complete closure dropped down on all of us like an iron curtain, this time, not one of ideology, but rather, one caused by an extreme health crisis.

I knew things were bad and it would be hard for Foley’s to survive, but it wasn’t until Shaun’s May 28 phone call that I knew the game was over.

Near the end of October, Shaun Clancy posted a selfie on his Facebook Account. The photo showed him standing on the southside of 33rd Street with the façade of  number 8 West 33rd Street visible over his left shoulder. The red doorway and glass doors remained but the top sign That proclaimed FOLEY’S NY  in gold letters placed on a black background had been covered with a crude sign that announced:

FOR RENT: Tony Park, 917-843-5622, Text Only

Sadly, the photograph reminded me of a line from my favorite baseball novel, Bang the Drum Slowly: “Sad, it makes you want to laugh; sad, it makes you want to cry.”

Frank Sinatra included a song in his repertoire, There Used to be a Ballpark Here, in memory of Ebbets Field:

And there used to be a ballpark

Where the field was warm and green

With a joy I’ve never seen

And the air was such a wonder

From hot-dogs and beer

Yes, there used to be a ballpark here.

It will be all too soon when few, if any, will recall that there used to be an outstanding sports bar called, Foley’s NY, at 18 West 33rd Street where “everything was six, two and even.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Foley’s NY Part 4 B

The Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame (Continued)

Shaun truly valued his Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame (IAB HOF.) In 2011, when Nolan Ryan explained to Shaun how much he regretted not being able to attend his induction ceremony, Shaun was so moved by his call that he travelled to Arlington, Texas to personally present Ryan with his plaque.

Shaun and his Dad, Papa John, also made the trip to California to present Vince Scully with his plaque.

But Shaun also injected Irish wit and humor into the process. He went to great ends to identify a possible nominee’s Irish roots so that they could qualify for inclusion. Despite his attempts at accommodations, valued baseball friends remained excluded. A correction being in order, Shaun announced an unusual path to honor those without any identifiable Irish roots:

“In 2018, The Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame will also present its annual Pete Caldera-Duke Castiglione ‘I Didn’t Know You Were Irish Award,’ which goes to an honoree whose Irish roots are not widely known. This year’s honoree is Tyler Tumminia, senior vice president of the Goldklanng Group, which owns several professional baseball teams.”

Pete Caldera is a former sports reporter who covered the Yankees. He is also a local Metropolitan area entertainer, a Frank Sinatra cover singer and Shaun’s good friend.

Duke Castiglione is also Shaun’s good friend, a sports reporter and talk show host based in Boston. Duke’s father, Joe, has been a Red Sox radio broadcaster since 1983 and by 2004, when the Red Sox won their first World Series since God invented dirt in1918, Joe was Boston’s lead play by play announcer.

On one of our lunch visits, we found Shaun sitting with a group of guys at the Red Sox table in the opposite corner from our table. Shortly after we arrived, Shaun stood up and walked over to us. “Mister Scott,” he commanded, “Put out your hand and open your palm.” Mike did as he was told, and Shaun dropped Joe’s 2004 World Series ring into it. “Come over and meet Joe Castiglione. I know you’ve listened to him enough times over the radio. Now it’s time to meet the man.”

Mike followed  while I watched from our table. They greeted each other warmly, Mike gave Joe a brief explanation of his father’s love for the Sox that he and his brother, Kevin, inherited and uphold. “Try it on,” Joe suggested and proudly, Mike slipped it onto his ring finger to both of their delight.

The IAB HOF class of 2013 included Joe McEwing who continues to be a coach with the Chicago White Sox. Shaun engineered the date for the induction ceremony so that it coincided with the dates that the Sox would be in town to play the Bronx bombers up at Yankee Stadium. Joe has a splendid reputation and is well-liked by his fellow coaches and players. The entire White Sox coaching staff and their manager, Robin Ventura, attended his induction. So too did the Mets star and team leader, David Wright. Albeit it was a cameo appearance, but Wright didn’t want to miss this honor. Shaun later explained to Mike and me that when David Wright was a rookie and Super Joe was nearing the end of his playing career, Joe introduced Wright to Foley’s.

Mike was too ill to attend the 2019 induction ceremony, but I attended with my son Michael. The inductees were two time National League MVP, Dale Murphy, Phillies broadcaster, Tom McCarthy, Atlanta Braves manager, Brian Snitker, documentary film producer, John Fitzgerald, The Emerald Diamond (about the first Irish national baseball team) and former Red Sox CEO, John Harrington.

We were disappointed that Murphy didn’t attend, but the other inductees put on a good show.

When Shaun introduced  John Fitzgerald, he pointed out that Fitz was also the founder of the Irish American Baseball Society (IABS) dedicated to supporting…”the game of baseball in Ireland and celebrates the contributions of Irish Americans to baseball in America.”

Shaun took the opportunity to explain that he and Fitz would be cooperating with each other to achieve these goals. As part of this effort, Fitz would play a role in the IAB HOF.

Unfortunately, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.” Ironically, we knew nothing about the virus we would come to know as “Covid 19,” a virus that would change everything that we took for granted in ways unimaginable in that summer of 2019.

Foley’s NY: Part 4A

The Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame

On a spring day in 2010 Mike and I grabbed onto one of those vertical baseball bats to enter Foley’s for lunch. Curiously, we found the bar to be empty while the dining room looked packed alerting us that something was going on. As we reached the hostess’ station, Kathy stopped us and asked, “What are you doing here? Don’t you know this is a private event?”

Obviously, we were clueless. “Kathy, we just came in to have lunch.” One of us blabbered.

Kathy was by now our friend who noted the disappointment we expressed. “Okay, let me get you a table away from the action. Please don’t draw attention to yourselves.”

She procured a table for two in the back corner of the dining room where we could watch the action without being intrusive. Serendipitously, we had crashed Shaun’s induction  ceremony for  the class of 2010 into the Irish-American Baseball Hal of Fame. (IAB HOF.) Attendance was by invitation only. We had discovered another of Shaun’s treasurers by sheer accident. .

Understand, Shaun loves baseball and Ireland. One of his ambitions is to marry these interests and his IAB HOF is a manifestation of this desire. This was his third induction ceremony and it had obviously taken off in popularity within the Major League Baseball community. Previous inductees included the legendry Connie Mack, actor, Kevin Costner, (Field of Dreams, among other baseball movies,) Tug McGraw, Arthur (Red) Foley, the New York sportswriter who was the namesake for Shaun’s saloon and legendary announcer, Vince Scully.

From our bleacher seats, we watched Shaun introduce the Class of 2010 that included Tim McCarver, the catcher extraordinaire and renown broadcaster and Brian Cashman, the NY Yankees general manager. We enjoyed the festivities and the ceremonies from our cheap seats  being careful to remain invisible. The highlight of the day happened when Tim McCarver approached our table. “Say fellas, do me a favor and point me in the right direction for the men’s room.” McCarver made his request in the same voice and tone that he used for commenting on his NBC Game of the Week broadcasts.

Shaun noticed our behavior and began inviting us to future induction ceremonies. In time, he even directed us to sit at the same table with the inductees. Sometimes this didn’t work out like in 2015 when Bill Murray was a no show but there were others that were wonderful experiences.

My personal favorite was lunch with David Cone in 2014. Shaun had us arrive early and directed us to sit at our usual round table in the right-hand corner close to the mic. “Leave the seat facing away from the corner vacant for Coney and sit in the two seats on either side.” Shaun made it sound like we were to be Mr. Cone’s bodyguards and our size did afford him privacy if not protection.

Cone was a delightful lunch partner that day who regaled us with wonderful stories. Mike asked him about being a Red Sox – particularly a Yankees game at Fenway Park in 2001, David’s last year in baseball. “You were pitching for the Red Sox opposing Yankees’ starter, Mike Mussina. Mussina was pitching a perfect game and you had a shut out going into the ninth inning.”

David looked at Mike with a measure of excitement, smiled and picked up the conversation. “It could have been yesterday. Tino Martinez hit a single, but Jorge Posada popped up for the first out. Paul O’ Neill hit a perfect double-play grounder that should have ended the inning and my outing.”

Mike interjected, “But the Sox second baseman, Lou Merloni, whiffed on the play.”

“Correct,” David agreed smiling, while shaking his head. “Instead of getting out of the inning, I had runners at first and third with only one out.”

Mike asked, “I recall, Joe Kerrigan, the Red Sox manager came out of the dugout and asked you if you wanted to stay in the game?”

“Right you are Mike! You have a good memory. I told him what he wanted to hear, ‘leave me in.’ The last thing I wanted to do was give up the ball when I still had a shutout to protect.”

The next Yankee batter, Enrique Wilson, hit a double that scored Clay Bellinger who had replaced Martinez as a pinch runner.

Cone: “Kerrigan took me out of the game. I knew my career was almost over. This could have been my last hurrah, but Mike (Mussina) had a better day. What was utterly amazing was, as I neared the dugout, the Fenway sell-out crowd broke into a standing ovation.

“Guys, understand how amazing that was. 2001 was my only year on the team and I had pitched against their Sox with the Royals, the Blue Jays and, of course, their evil empire, the Yankees.

“What a thrill!”

“You tipped your hat to the crowd,” Mike replied.

“Yes, I did, they deserved that.”

I sat there mesmerized taking it all in. I’ve realized that professional athletes have a photographic memory of all their highs and lows. But David Cone’s responses to Mike Scott’s  prompts were terrific.

All this dialogue took place over servings of cheeseburgers, fries and a couple rounds of Guinness. 

For sure, for me and for Mike, the best Foley’s lunch, ever.